The color pink has become synonymous with raising awareness about breast cancer. Each Mother’s Day, professional baseball players don pink attire and even use pink bats to raise awareness about breast cancer, while many pink T-shirts and ribbons can be seen during annual walks that aim to raise money for breast cancer research. These efforts and others involving the color pink are often inspired by good-natured people’s attempts to support female friends and relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but it’s important to note that this potentially deadly disease can afflict anyone, including men.

An overwhelming majority of breast cancer patients are female. In fact, the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men. However, BreastCancer.org notes that more than 2,600 men were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Men who overlook breast cancer and its potential symptoms could be putting themselves in jeopardy, however unlikely that may be.

How do men get breast cancer?

The fact that men don’t have breasts does not prevent them from getting breast cancer. That’s because men’s bodies have breast tissue and even small amounts of breast-stimulating hormones. According to BreastCancer.org, most males bodies don’t utilize these hormones all that much, which is why their breast tissue stays flat and small. However, some men, and even boys, utilize the hormones more than others, and even develop breasts, which are typically just mounds of fat. But in some instances males develop real breast gland tissue, which can be a byproduct of abnormal hormone levels or certain medications.

What are some risk factors for male breast cancer?

Instances of male breast cancer are so rare that the disease has not been the subject of substantial research. But researchers have learned that various factors can increase a man’s risk for breast cancer. Learning these risk factors is important, as men are not typically screened for breast cancer, which means it’s often diagnosed in its later, less treatable stages.

• Age: The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is 68. That’s not too surprising, as age also increase women’s risk for the disease.

• Elevated estrogen levels: Men with elevated estrogen levels are at greater risk of developing breast cancer than those with normal levels. Estrogen levels can increase due to various factors. Men who take hormonal medicines may experience elevated estrogen levels, while being overweight also increases those levels. Alcohol limits the liver’s ability to regulate estrogen levels, so men who are heavy drinkers also may be elevating their risk for breast cancer.

• Klinefelter syndrome: This condition affects about one in 1,000 men and is characterized by lower than normal levels of the male hormone androgen and higher than normal levels of the female hormone estrogen.

• Radiation exposure: Men who have been treated with radiation to the chest have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Men are not immune to breast cancer. Recognizing that and understanding risk factors for male breast cancer can save lives.

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